Will AI make data lose its value?

Thanks to ever greater numbers of transactions being carried out online and the rapid growth in the number of Internet of Things (IoT) devices, businesses are collecting more information about their customers than ever before.

That information has enormous value in terms of what it can reveal about buying habits, but of course to extract meaningful business intelligence it needs to be analysed. The sheer volume of data being harvested is leaving companies struggling to process it.

In response, many are looking to artificial intelligence (AI) solutions, But the use of these raises some interesting questions about whether, once the AI comes of age, there will an on-going need to harvest customer data.

Paying with data

Why do technology companies including Google offer services such as Gmail to consumers free of charge? How can Facebook and Twitter offer their social networks for nothing? It isn’t out of the goodness of their hearts, it’s because of the information it allows them to harvest. Information that can be monetised by providing other products or targeted advertising. Users effectively pay for the service with their data. And of course the more data they collect, the better they get at showing you content that is likely to interest you.

But does this collection need to be open-ended? Increasingly AI means that once you have extracted sufficient data for the software to be able to draw reasonable conclusions, you don’t really need to collect anymore. In future, that could mean a reduction in the largesse of tech giants as they focus on products they can actually sell rather than those that allow them to gather data.

This could mean that the free content will end up being driven by AI. It will show us the things the algorithms decide we’d like to see. Only if we’re prepared to pay for the ‘premium’ service will we be able to decide for ourselves what content we consume. Of course, once the AI can serve up content that most people are happy with, our data loses much of its value.

The same applies to some extent to online shopping. Amazon may have started out selling books and CDs but today it makes more of its money from selling its cloud web services. Knowing what type of fiction you like to read therefore becomes less important to it. This becomes a task that can be safely relegated to AI without the need to keep an eagle eye on your every page view through big data analysis.

And what does this mean for IT skills? Could today’s big data analysts could end up as tomorrow’s lamplighters? Demand for AI experts, on the other hand, could soar. In IT, in-vogue skills have always been somewhat changeable; if ever an industry was used to adapting to shifts in demand for skills, then it is this one.

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